Seattle photos & Canon’s micro-focus adjustments

Downtown Seattle - 168mm, 1/500, f/5.6, ISO1600

Downtown Seattle – 168mm, 1/500, f/5.6, ISO1600

I took this shot from Hamilton Viewpoint Park in West Seattle.  I had my 10-year-old EF 70-200mm f/4L lens on my new EOS 6D.  The lens itself has a fairly severe back focusing problem (focuses slightly further than what the autofocus point is aimed at). When I first noticed it, I chalked it up to camera shake blur, or I would have returned it and asked for another copy.  The more I used it, I began to notice that an animal’s eyes (which I pointed the AF point at) were a little soft, but the fur on its shoulders was tack sharp.  If my shutter speed was too slow the whole shot would have been soft. Thank goodness for Canon’s MFA (Micro-Focus Adjustment) feature on their newer dSLRs!

My EOS 50D and EOS 7D allowed you to set an autofocus compensation adjustment for each lens, which the AF system would take into account each time you attached a particular lens.  Very handy, but I discovered the 6D actually has separate wide and telephoto MFA settings for each lens.  Awesome!  Especially for troublesome lenses like my 70-200mm.  I’ve tried hooking my 7D to my computer and focusing on a target on the wall halfway across the house to make these settings.  This time I took a more practical, albeit less scientific, approach.

I like using magnified Live View and manually focusing to ensure sharp landscapes.  Action shots or situations which require precise timing and a quick shutter finger can’t take advantage of this technique, but it works for tripod shots of static subjects.  To set my MFA adjustments, I set the camera on a tripod and focused on a subject that was about the distance of most subjects I’d shoot with that particular lens.  For example: at 200mm, I focused on the tree across the road about 300 feet away, and for my 35mm, I focused on a bench about 10 feet away.  Normal working ranges for me at those focal lengths.  Then I magnified Live View 5X or 10X, and manually focused until the details were as sharp as I could get them.  Next I flipped the lens’ AF switch and half-pressed the shutter while carefully watching the distance scale on the lens.  If it moved, I entered an adjustment.

Eventually, I got all my lenses not to move at all from the sharpest I could get using magnified manual focus.  Now I am getting the sharpest images I ever have with my 70-200, thanks to a minus 15 micro-focus adjustment.  Just to put that in perspective, -20 is the farthest you can go, and my other lenses needed only +/- 3 MFA or less.  But look at those buildings!  Very sharp.  Great optics, but a poorly aligned AF motor.

Space Needle - 154mm, 1/500, f/8, ISO800

Space Needle – 154mm, 1/500, f/8, ISO800

Another secret for sharp hand-held images:  My shutter speed was set to 1/500 sec.  The basic rule is to set your shutter speed at, or higher than, your focal length. So at 200mm, your shutter speed should be at least 1/250.  I went a little faster because it was breezy and I know, even bracing my elbows on the fence, I can’t keep the camera completely still. If I have to raise my ISO to get a high enough shutter speed, I do it!  Sharp but grainy photos are more usable than smooth but soft, blurred photos, and software noise reduction actually works surprisingly well.

Seattle Bi-Color - NIK Color Efex Pro 4

Seattle Bi-Color – NIK Color Efex Pro 4

Here is a crazy bi-color filter on one of the photos I took. Now that I look at it inserted into the post, it looks like I jammed a sunset city and mid-afternoon water together in Photoshop, but it really is one photo.  Sometimes it’s fun to just experiment and not be too stuck on “realistic”.

Rainier from Discovery Park

Rainier from Discovery Park

This is a shot from earlier the same day at Discovery Park north of downtown Seattle.  I normally don’t like borders but once it awhile I think it can add to the photo.  If you look at the horizon line just to the right of the mountain, that’s where I went to shoot the other photos in this post.  I used my EF 35mm f/2 lens for this photo at f/13, trying to keep everything in focus from near to far.

I hope you like the photos, and if you have an EOS dSLR and think your lenses might not be autofocusing precisely, this may give you some ideas.


Tolmie State Park (after work)

Here are a couple lessons I’ve learned about photography.  This first one took me longer to learn than it should have.  If you only shoot when it’s convenient – when you’re already there for another purpose, then you’ll only get tourist quality photos.  If you choose the time and place ahead of time and go there for the purpose of capturing good photography, you’ll get much better results.  It’s not convenient to drive or hike somewhere just to take pictures, especially if you have a busy, demanding life and a family.  But I am learning that if I find the time, I am rewarded.

Second, time of day matters!  In this post:

I was shooting in the same location, much earlier in the day. This time I went during the short window of daylight after I got off work on a weekday.  You get much more pleasing results just before the sun goes down!  And it was just my luck I arrived at high tide.

Tolmie SP Cove

Tolmie SP Cove

One more thing I am learning is to read the sky.  As I go about my daily business, I watch to see if the sky would yield interesting results in a photograph.  This evening when I was driving home from work and saw the sky, I knew I had to grab my camera bag and tripod and run to the nearest scenic location.  Fall weather in western Washington most often looks like the photos from my Cape Disappointment posts – very grey and overcast.  But cloudless blue skies are not much better.  I had a great sky that evening though!

Tolmie SP Bridge

Tolmie SP Bridge

I was using my new B+W MRC F-Pro circular polarizer.  I had been looking for a better quality polarizer for a few months.  They are usually $120 to $150, which is a lot of money for a filter if you’re not a pro, even if it does rotate to make its effect more or less intense.  But I found a used one in like-new condition for only $75.  From my own observation, the more expensive and higher quality B+W has a more natural polarizing affect, and it doesn’t soften images the way my cheaper Tiffen CP filter did.

The problem with using any polarizer on a very wide angle lens, like my 17mm, is that you get dark and light areas in your sky (see above).

Bridge to Tolmie Beach

Bridge to Tolmie Beach

In the original RAW file, the bottom half of this photo is almost black. Amazing how much detail was hiding there!  But after my Lightroom adjustments, the leaves were still dull.  NIK Color Efex Pro 4 helped me bring out their color with its Brilliance/Warmth tool.  This is probably a good time to add that most photos I edit with the Color Efex plugin get a treatment with the Pro Contrast tool.  It is flat amazing what it can do to images all by itself!

Tolmie SP Bridge

Tolmie SP Bridge

The only bad thing about my timing that evening was that someone in the area was burning something and it was hazy and smokey out over the Sound.  Editing cleared up most of it, but you can see the smoke along the horizon line.  But I still pleased with the photos I got.

Tolmie SP Beach Driftwood

Tolmie SP Beach Driftwood

I think I overcooked this one.  It was pretty dark, and when you try to lighten up a photo that much and then apply contrast as much as I did, the results won’t be the best.  I just can’t seem to resist going for that saturated, high contrast look.  Ah well, this is art, right?  I have creative license to edit my photos until they look like a fresco painting if I want to.

Thanks for looking.  Have a great day!


Infrared Photos with Split-Tone Color

Lightroom 5 has a section called “Split Toning”, which I hardly ever use.  But I went to a local Japanese garden and took a couple photos of the side gate.  The garden is small and nothing spectacular, but maintained and provides some good photo subjects.

When I started processing the images back home, I wanted to do something a little different from the normal monochrome conversion.  Just for fun, here is a JPEG exported straight from the RAW file with no editing. This is what I started with.

Yashiro Japanese Garden Gate - Infrared, no editing

Yashiro Japanese Garden Gate – Infrared, no editing

Shooting infrared with my Canon 6D has a few limitations. It’s not converted for infrared, and instead has a fairly strong “hot mirror” which keeps most of the infrared light from reaching the sensor.  So when I use my IR filter, my exposures in bright sunlight can be 10 to 30 seconds long. As you can see, slight breezes blur the leaves quite badly.  And to get those shutter speeds, I am using ISO 1600, which means, even with the 6D, the image will have some noise.

In addition, there is an odd hallow around defined edges that defies the laws of physics where visible light is concerned.  For example, click on the photo to see more detail and look near the bottom hinge of the right door.  The leaves BEHIND the door seem to be casting a reflection or reverse-shadow on the FRONT edge of the door.  The letters on the sign also have some ghosting.  It could be the way IR light bounces around in my 50mm f1.8 lens’ optics. I honestly don’t know, but I don’t have this issue with my old Canon Powershot G3, which I’ve used for infrared photos for many years.

Enough moaning… Here is what I got in Lightroom:

Yashiro Gate - Split-Tone on  B&W

Yashiro Gate – Split-Tone on B&W

Split toning in Lightroom allows you to choose a color for the highlights and a different color for the shadows.  I found that applying the principle of color contrast works well here.  I chose a warm color (soft yellow) for highlights, and a cool color (blue) for the shadows.  You can adjust the saturation for each color separately.  And you can adjust the balance between the two.  This photo is heavily biased toward the blue tone.

This photo is more biased toward a yellow/orange color, but you can still see the subtle blues in the shadows.

Yashiro Gate - Infrared, Split Tone

Yashiro Gate – Infrared, Split Tone

Once again, the motion blur from breezes and the odd ghosting make the details softer than ideal, but it is a fun effect.  I’ll have to try this on some normal black and white images!